Union for correctional workers worried about needle exchange program
Officials with the Union of Canadian Corrections Officers in the region are sounding the alarm.
The union, which represents more than 7,000 workers across the country — around 1,000 of them in Kingston — is concerned about potential dangers surrounding a needle exchange program that could eventually be rolled out to prisons across the country.
“We want the government and Correctional Service Canada to put the brakes on this thing,” said Rob Finucan with the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers in Kingston.
It was introduced as a pilot program in two federal prisons earlier this year, one in Waterloo and the other in New Brunswick. Come January, however, other facilities could start using the program as well. Mark Gerretsen, member of parliament for Kingston and the Islands, says it’s meant to reduce the risk of infectious disease.
“People are using needles in prisons,” said Gerretsen. “As a result, we’re seeing more infections transmitted from prisoner to prisoner.”
Finucan adds that several employees have already been pricked with needles searching inmate’s cells. With the possible roll-out to more federal institutions, he says, his members are worried about being put at risk, with inmates having more access to needles.
“There’s no glove that is needle-proof,” Finucan said. “It’s a terrible thing for our workers to go on a cocktail for treatment if they get a needle stick for an infectious disease.”
Gerretsen says he will stand by to ensure employees are comfortable with how the needle exchange program works.
“Let’s keep in constant communication with them,” said Gerretsen. “We want to make sure we have the tools they need to do their jobs as safely as possible.”
In the prisons currently using the program, needles are given to inmates that use injection drugs, following a risk assessment test. Corrections Canada says the goal of the program was to reduce the need for prisoners to share needles and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
“This is a measure to try and ensure that diseases are as preventable as possible.”
The correctional system has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs in prisons. Although the government recognizes the irony in the measure, Gerretsen says the reality is drugs are used in the system.
“What we’re doing here is saying yes, drugs are illegal and they are not to be used,” Gerretsen said. “But we recognize that sometimes they are being used.”
The union, representing front-line staff in federal institutions, is also concerned about the possibility that needles could go missing and be used as weapons.
Officials with Correctional Service Canada say they will be reviewing the results of the pilot project before implementing the program at other institutions.
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